I am extremely thankful to the Gabby Awards for sending me tickets to attend the 2011 Gabby Awards, a celebration of “Greek America’s Best and Brightest Stars.” The website describes the Gabby Awards as follows:
The Gabby Awards were created to celebrate and reward the excellence Greek Americans have achieved in various fields. Founded in 2009 to also celebrate the 15th anniversary of the launching of Greek America Magazine, the Gabby Awards serve as the “Oscars®” of the Greek American community.
The 2011 Gabby Awards were held on Ellis Island, and there were special, star-studded events all weekend to celebrate.
On Friday, June 3, the American College of Greece hosted a cocktail and art exhibition to honor Gabby Awards Lifetime Achievement Award winner artist Stephen Antonakos at Lori Bookstein Fine Art. I’m a huge fan of Stephen Antonakos’ art. I love modern art in general but I’m particularly entranced with the idea of using neon in fine art, as Antonakos does. Neon — symbol Ne; atomic number 10 — comes from the Greek word “νέον,” which means “new one.” Neon was discovered by British chemists in 1898 and made into advertising signs first in France in 1912. It wasn’t until 1923 that neon signs were bought in the U.S. Antonakos, who was born three years later in 1926 in Greece, move to America in 1930 and thirty years later, in 1960, began using neon in his art. According to the Gabby Awards:
Antonakos “discovered” neon in 1960 when he was intrigued by the light emanating from midtown Manhattan neon signs. From there, he made neon his primary medium, developing his individual contribution to modern art.
I was hoping for a whole roomful of neon sculptures, but there was only one, Plea, at the Lori Bookstein Fine Art gallery. Plea is a red rectangle, hung vertically on the wall. Neon light emanates from behind it, making one reconsider the shape, color, and even significance of the red rectangle.
The sculptor of light, Antonakos, says:
My use of neon is really my own. I began with it around 1960 and very soon it became central to my work. The geometric forms, usually incomplete circles and squares, were a tremendous excitement to me. It is very difficult to separate light from space — even when the art is directly on the wall. For years I have been investigating the great subtlety and range of neon using forms that haven’t changed that much since the beginning. It’s spatial qualities interest me — formal relationships within a work and with the architecture of the room or building and the kinetic relationship that viewer may feel in the space of the light. I feel that abstraction can have a very deep effect visually, emotionally, and spatially.
As this quote indicates, Antonakos’ artwork is about more than just neon — it’s also about shape. At first, some of his works seem simplistic, but upon closer inspection they are brilliantly thought-provoking. Take for instance, Drawing/Neon For The University of Massachusetts, also up at the gallery. On top of white paper sits the outline of a circle, done in red pencil. Except, it’s not a circle at all — there circle never closes, never completes. It’s very nature — unending — is interrupted, challenged.
The Gabby Awards points out:
In his long and storied career, Antonakos has had more than 100 one-person shows, more than 250 group shows, and almost 50 Public Works installed in the United States, Europe, and Japan. He is recognized as the world’s pioneer light artist.
Antonakos’ Lifetime Achievement Award was presented the following night at the Gabby Awards, by Helen Evans, the Mary and Michael Jaharis Curator for Byzantine Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Friday’s event at the gallery was quite lovely, even though I wish there would have been more of Antonakos’ art on view — in particular, I want to see Mani Sky, Arrival, and Transfiguration.
The passed hors d’oeuvres were probably the best appetizers of the entire event. I’m talking mac-and-cheese croquettes, vegetarian sushi, and other delectable treats, served by charming caterers, who caught on to my dietary choice and looked out for me, going out of their way to give me vegetarian options.
I want to also take a moment to mention Deree, The American College of Greece. The college’s president, David G. Horner, Ph.D., was there to speak about the college’s esteemed history as “Europe’s oldest and largest, comprehensive, U.S.-accredited academic institution.” The college offers undergrad, grad, and continuing ed courses.
Congratulations to Stephen Antonakos! His work will be on display at the Lori Bookstein Fine Art Gallery (138 10th Ave, New York) through June 25, 2011.